This is a review of my visit to Downeast Cider House in Charlestown, Ma (Boston).
The reason for my visit actually originated because of my Recap of the WZLX Worcester Craft Beer Festival in which I said some negative things about Downeast’s showing there and their product line. Shortly after that post went live I received an email from Ross, one of the owners of Downeast Cider House, defending his product and asking me to come visit the cidery and give them a fair shake. How could I refuse? I love a business owner that is passionate, willing to stand up for his product and put his money where his mouth is.
So I agreed to go check out their operation, which happens to be located right under the Tobin Bridge in Boston, MA (Charlestown to be specific). Right from the get-go it is obvious that this is a burgeoning business, as the warehouse style space is being utilized to its fullest potential. There are 8 vats, a canning line, a tasting bar and just about everything else you need to run a cidery with nary an inch to spare. I am greeted by the owners, Ross and Tyler, who put a cold can of their Original Blend in my hand and start telling me how this business came to be.
It’s probably a story you’ve heard before. Two guys get out of college, not sure what they want to do, start making cider in a barn in Maine (that happens to be on an apple orchard) as a hobby, people like it, they buy a vat and start making more, people keep liking it, and the next thing you know several years have gone by and they have a full-blown craft cidery running in Boston. Ok, maybe you haven’t heard that exact story before, but it is a theme you see repeated in the world of craft beer and cider. It’s actually one of the reasons those products are so good, because you have a lot of people that started from scratch just because they were passionate about something and it caught on, and their business was able to grow and flourish. They don’t cut corners or compromise quality, and that usually won’t make you rich, but it will make a quality product, and I’ve met enough of these type of guys to know that getting rich was never their goal in the first place.
So what is Ross and Tyler’s passion that drove them into this business? Well, they both grew up around the great apple orchards of Maine, and they have a real reverence for the product and the flavor of fresh apples. They wanted to figure out a way to get that flavor into hard cider without using concentrates or added sugar. The result was the unconventional approach of doing unfiltered cider. They believe (and after tasting it, so do I), that perfecting unfiltered cider allows the true apple taste to shine, much like the brown cloudy jugs of apple cider you’d buy at your local orchard farmstore. That’s what they were trying to achieve with their brand, and I’d say they’ve done it. After touring the facility there is no doubt about their commitment to quality. As an example, they wanted to do a cranberry apple cider, and even though they are located in the heart of Ocean Spray cranberry country, they weren’t able to purchase pure cranberry juice from the Ocean Spray conglomerate, just cranberry concentrate. This was not acceptable to them, so instead they shipped in cranberry juice from Wisconsin at a significantly higher cost to them, to make sure nothing from concentrate even made its way into their cider.
Now it’s important for me to note that when it comes to cider, I’ve always preferred traditional dry English-style cider, and I still do. So while Downeast’s ciders may not be to my taste, that doesn’t mean they’re not good. In fact, I was able to taste a half dozen of their offerings while I was there and I really liked the Hard Honey, which was not too sweet, but rather had a nice tartness with great floral notes and a smoothness of body that only honey can provide. In full disclosure, I didn’t care for their attempt at Hard Lemonade (as previously referenced in my Worcester Beer Festival article), although I have to admit it would make a good mixer, and they had a maple oak small batch that I found to be much too sweet. However, during the course of discussion with Ross he mentioned that a while back they had done an experimental one-off batch of strawberry habanero cider, and he saw my eyes light up. “That’s the type of stuff I wanna try!” I exclaimed. I want to see their inginuity at work, and the cider gods must have been smiling down upon me that day, because they had put aside a small amount of this batch in a “secret stash” of sorts, and agreed to let me try it. It was well worth it, because this one cider really cemented my opinion of Downeast and their operation.
It wasn’t just that this cider was really good (which it was), but it was the fact that these guys were experimenting and taking risks with flavor combinations and odd ingredients. They were truly “creating” and not content to just pump out the status quo, which is why I’m confident that they will continue to be successful. If you don’t believe me, go spend a couple of hours with them yourself, as they have tours and tasting hours on Saturday and Sunday. The bottom line is, if you’re a drinker of any MacroCider brand, like Woodchuck, Angry Orchard, Smith & Forge, etc., and you live in an area that sells Downeast Cider, give them a try. You’ll get a better quality product and you’ll be supporting a company that is worthy of your support.